LibrlSt 721: Special Topics in Liberal Studies
Anne Hansen, Associate Professor of History and Comparative Study of Religion
Love and Attachment in Buddhist Narrative
Tentative Reading List
Hammalawa Saddhatissa, Before He was the Buddha
- Selections from:
- Commentary on the Dhammapada
- Bimba's Lament
- Saddharma Ratnavaliya
Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, selected essays from Me & Mine
Thich Nhat Hanh, Cultivating the Mind of Love
Aya Khema, I Give You My Life
Chan Khong, Learning True Love
Martha Nussbaum, selected chapters from Love's Knowledge
Buddhism has often been characterized in the West as a religious tradition that teaches an ethic of individual salvation, world renunciation and detachment from ordinary family life. While many Buddhist writings extol the virtues of the solitary celibate life of the bhikkhu or monk, Buddhist literature contains an equally powerful examination of the ethics of attachment, social responsibility, friendship, and family life. Within this literature, it is the parent-child relationship-rather than romantic love, as in many Western literary works-that serves as the primary paradigm for love. This Buddhist inquiry into the nature of love and attachment tends to be expressed through narrative: stories that are widely known and enjoyed in Buddhist cultures and which come to serve as a medium for ethical reflection on the complexities and responsibilities of human relationships.
While the cultural contexts of the texts we will read and analyze may seem initially unfamiliar, some of their themes will be easily apprehended: an awkward boy rejected by his father grows up to become cruel and vindictive; a son who murders his own father in unable to find relief from his guilt and remorse. With other stories, we, like Buddhists, will have to struggle with their meanings and moral judgments: a king renowned for practicing generosity gives away his own children to a cruel Brahmin; the Buddha's wife grieves when her husband abandons her at the birth of their first child in order to seek enlightenment. In all cases, the narratives are rich, complex and beautiful works of literature that will not only enlarge our knowledge of Buddhist ideas of love and attachment, but also help us to better understand our own lives and relationships.
No prior study of Buddhism is expected, but students must be open to critical engagement with reading non-Western and non-contemporary texts (in translation) and taking part in rigorous discussion and analysis. Students will write weekly 1-2 page essays responding to aspects of the reading, one of which will be expanded and exhaustively revised (in response to comments from the instructor and peers) into a polished 5-7 page paper. In addition, teams of students will lead selected class discussions and produce a final course project that will be presented orally (as time permits) at the end of the semester.
Final course projects: students will craft their own final projects in consultation with the instructor. Projects should connect with the course themes and methods for ethical and literary analysis taught over the course of the semester. Ideally, these projects will also reflect the larger intellectual questions or projects that students bring to the MLS program, and will advance students toward conceptualizing or preparing their "culminating projects" (LibrlSt 798) for the MLS degree. Options for the final course project include: reading and analyzing Western literature on love and attachment (through works such as Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice, passages from Martin Luther King Jr.'s Trumpet of Conscious, the Bible, or literature of the student's own choosing); research and artistic projects that treat the themes of ethical values about love or the relationship between narrative thinking and literary form; comparative projects on love and attachment; studies of Buddhist ritual, artistic, literary, or philosophical life and ideas in connection with the themes of love and attachment in Buddhist ethics.
Curtin Hall 939